The Government Fights Back
Acid House was a non-political movement. Promoters and party-goers had no interest in politics. Although hedonistic in nature, Acid House provided an opportunity to explore our personal emotions in a safe space’ This sounds at odds, considering the violent forces attacking from all sides. The government and media from the perimeter and organised crime from within. When the British government decided to funnel major funds into isolating Acid House as public enemy number one, decorated Chief Superintendent Kenneth Tappenden was summoned to head the charge, as members of parliament declare war on an entire segment of the population, regardless of age, colour or background. The Police Pay Party Unit was promptly formulated in 1989 to destroy the Acid House network. Backed by a host of organisations including brewery companies, nightclub owners, media outlets, pop-stars and worried parents.
The task force were granted questionable powers that ultimately leads to closing illegal events down, baring in mind that illegal meant unlicensed, no events were licensed so everyone was fair game. This extended to nightclub owners hoping to cash in on the huge influx of people searching for somewhere to go. Reputable party promoters tried hiring clubs with the full consent of owners, but once the event was announced, local police would threaten owners with closure by blocking future license applications.
The Police Pay Party Unit were indeed a force to be reckoned with, as one of the few officers in Britain with boots on the ground, Tappenden stood at the helm of a nation-wide operation with big budgets and computerised technology. They had many public concerns, not least safety, drugs and noise pollution were obviously keen topics of debate but government officials had their eye on another prize, one that under normal circumstances would cause public alarm. Acid House provided the perfect cloaking devise for members of parliament to prohibit the free movement of people, worse still, they wanted to control any gathering of people regardless of the occasion.
Newspapers announced new governmental measures against Acid House parties but in truth the polices meant all events were under threat not just Acid House parties. Birthdays, christenings and weddings can be stopped with the same laws as stopping an illegal event in a field for 10,000 people. Any gathering of more than three people can be broken up, individuals fined and equipment confiscated.
The Bright Bill introduced new Private Members Bills through parliament. Anyone charged with organising an Acid House event or warehouse party faced a mandatory six months in prison, £10,000 fine and assets over £20,000 confiscated. Remember this is 1989, long before the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The national media were doing a fine job segregating Acid House party promoters, DJs and party goers from the rest of humanity.
It fell to the Police Pay Party Unit to enforce the weight of parliament. The fully staffed centralised office was manned seven days a week. Newly emerging computer technology allowed authorities to network computers from coast to coast. Police stations could now share up-to-the-minute information on who, where and when events were taking place. Police raids were a rich source of data collection. Undercover officers dig for any related information that led to the locations of the weekend’s events by collecting flyers, infiltrating parties, paying informers or word of mouth. All data was collated such as promoters names, upcoming events, DJ’s names, sound and lighting companies, workers on the ground or pirate radio networks were all added on the fly. Databases are updated immediately so police forces around the country are well informed. Given the emergence of networked computers this is actually the first time in British history that police stations were sharing data on a national scale.
The Police Pay Party Unit was supported by hit squads of hard-boiled officers reminiscent of the SPG (Special Patrol Group) of the early eighties. Strategically placed around the UK, highly reactive to the fluid nature of chasing promoters and party-goers. Every weekend was a game of chess for all parties involved. What worked in promoters favour was the fact party-goers understood the game, making it easier to move thousands of people from one part of the country to another within a short time.
The Police Pay Party Unit adopted a variety of zero-tolerant methods to prohibit the movement of traffic by creating rolling roadblocks where vehicles were stopped and searched or restricted from going any further. Police were forming roadblocks on motorways to stop people reaching party locations. They closed down motorway service stations, stopping vehicles from entering or exiting. They pressured the DTI into raiding more pirate radio stations. Set up surveillance operations on party promoters, their associates and even lighting and sound companies they used for production.
The unit even took to the airwaves under the guise of a pirate radio station, drip-feeding the wrong directions to listeners in hope of stopping them reaching the already thriving event. A strategy they soon regretted as motorists were running out of petrol whilst roaming aimlessly around the motorway. When they happened across a petrol station, some motorists drove off without paying for fuel. Newspaper reports the following day ran headlines such as ’Tanked Up Terror of Acid Invaders’, ‘Kidnapped Cop’s Acid Terror’. Imagine the impact such headlines with trigger words such as terror had on the general population. The larger organisations were being raided week after week, closely followed by a host of smaller venues. Once suited up and on the road, thousands of people were about to have a bad night.
The dividing factor for promoters was sheer numbers, by summer 1989, hundreds of Acid House parties were being staged every weekend. This kept the Police Pay Party Unit on their toes, they fought a fierce battle to regain control by the closing of 1990. Licenses were being granted to applicants for all-night events in fields and extended club closing times brought party-goers back into nightclubs. Acid House had set a new blueprint for dance parties, nightclubs and festival culture.
Today the story is being told in books and documentaries, one of the people that stood out to Wayne Anthony was police commander Kenneth Tappenden, head of the Police Pay Party Unit. He expressed great regret at the way the government handled Acid House culture, stating they pushed it underground, effectively making promoters targets for organised crime. In recent years Wayne formed a friendship with Kenneth after meeting him on a TV set, he honestly liked the man and completely respects him. He is as much a part of the Acid House story as any of us.